Wallace's patience pays off finally

Posted: Monday, April 19, 2004

MARTINSVILLE, Va. Rusty Wallace held off Bobby Labonte for the last 30 laps Sunday to end his 105-race winless streak and more than five hours on the track at Martinsville Speedway under a blazing sun.

The Advance Auto Parts 500 was halted for more than an hour with 210 laps to go after a block of concrete came lose in the third turn, leaving a dangerous hole a foot long and a foot wide in the surface.

Wallace, whose last victory came on April 29, 2001, at California Speedway, passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead on the 456th lap and pulled away on a restart with 38 laps left as the cars behind him battled for position.

He held on after Labonte emerged from the pack and tried to chase him down.

''Finally,'' he said after emerging from the car in Victory Lane with his arms raised.

He finished .538 seconds ahead of Labonte for his 55th career victory.

''I'm so glad to win again,'' he said. ''Man, it's been so long and we've gotten so close. The fans have been behind me forever and ever, pulling for me really hard. This one's for them.''

The hole on the track, 2-to-3 inches deep, damaged defending race champion Jeff Gordon's car and may have cost him a chance at a third straight victory on the .526-mile oval, where he's also won three straight poles.

During the delay, the hole was patched with a sealant and didn't cause any more problems.

Gordon, who was running second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and seemed to have a winning car until it was damaged, dropped to 22nd in the field after a series of stops for repairs under a caution flag.

He rallied to finish sixth.

Earnhardt finished third and Johnson was fourth, giving Chevrolet the next three spots on the finishing grid behind Wallace's Dodge.

''I just love this race track,'' Earnhardt said after his fifth straight top-five finish here. ''I want to win here so bad I can't stand it.''

Ryan Newman was fifth, also in a Dodge, followed by Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Sterling Marlin and Dale Jarrett.

The race was slowed 11 times for 106 laps by caution, including the six laps before and the 11 laps after the repairs to the track were made.

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